Friday, July 30, 2004

Will be back...

Monday. Presently in Hampton, VA. On business but travelling with family (we lived here 11 years before moving to New Hampshire), so that effectively rules out after-work posting.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

I ain't dead yet...

Sorry for the lack of posting. That is likely to continue throughout the summer. I do hope to get a few posts up on Communion.
Today I gave a talk on Intelligent Design to the local Rotary club. That was a blast. If anyone is interested in the PowerPoint slides, drop me a line.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Keep Your Hands off this NASCAR Fan

I have never been a fan of Spike Lee, or anyone else for that matter engaged in the cottage industry of race baiting. I always found it easy to ignore his inanities. But now he has gone too far! He has busted on NASCAR fans.

NASCAR, I am willing to bet, is the only sport that will broadcast an invocation that actually invokes the name of Jesus.

I think my being a Ph.D. physicist and a Christian is far less surprising than being a physicist and a NASCAR fan. At least I know other Christian-physicists. Any other NASCAR nuclear theorists out there?

Go Kevin Harvick!

The Real Absence

I am going to move on to a discussion of Communion. In many ways it will mirror the baptism discussion.

In the spectrum of views on communion we have Roman Catholicism on one end and memorialism (most modern evangelicals) on the other. Catholics believe that the elements actually become that which is signified, while memorialists do not believe that Christ is present in any special way--His presence is no different at the Lord's Supper than it is when we pray or even just think about Him. In memorialism, or Zwinglianism, The Lord’s Supper, like baptism, is not a means of grace but a personal testimony of faith and remembrance.

Luther and Calvin, especially Luther, land mucher closer to the Catholic end of the scale than to the Zwinglian. While they disagreed on the details of Christ's presence, they absolutely agreed that He is present in a way that is very different that, say, during prayer.

Their lack of agreement on the details is understandable. Scripture has left us with a mystery in that regard. However, while the trees may not be discernible, the forest certainly is. The bible is clear that while communion is a memorial of Christ it is also something much more, and His presence is real, and communion and union with Him occur.

This supernatural aspect of Communion is rejected by many because, well it is supernatural. It is as if the creator of all things is incapable of any real presence during the sacrament.

These are just some random initial thoughts which I hope to flesh out in some detail.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Yet More on Baptism

Some questions that arose concerning yesterday's post.

Matt asked:
Maybe I've totally misunderstood your reasoning in other posts, but I seem to recall you arguing that infant baptism was an application of salvific grace, more than a symbol. Yet here you say that it is a sign and that only if you believe you will be saved, and that the child isn't saved yet. Can you clarify this for me?
Baptism is always a sign of God’s promise whether conferred upon one of His elect or upon one who ultimately is lost. To some it is also a means of grace. As the Westminster Confession states:
XXVIII.VI. The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited, and conferred, by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongs unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in His appointed time.
The Reformed view is that baptism is in some sense effective throughout our lives, not just (indeed not necessarily) at the actual occurrence. Calvin wrote directly on this matter:
Nor is it to be supposed that baptism is bestowed only with reference to the past, so that, in regard to new lapses into which we fall after baptism, we must seek new remedies of expiation in other so-called sacraments, just as if the power of baptism had become obsolete. To this error, in ancient times, it was owing that some refused to be initiated by baptism until their life was in extreme danger, and they were drawing their last breath, that they might thus obtain pardon for all the past. Against this preposterous precaution ancient bishops frequently inveigh in their writings. (Institutes 4.15.3)

The fact that baptism is a sign does not demand that it cannot also be a means of grace, even one with a reach extending over a lifetime. Reread some of the passages that instruct baptism, they clearly indicate that the sacrament is much more than a sign.

Steve asked:
It doesn't seem that infant baptism saves. And what does the parental statement that the parent believes add to the event? And how is that different from a Believer choosing to be baptized?
Much of my answer to Matt's question applies to Steve’s too. I have written much on this subject lately, and I would summarize the important differences between infant baptism and believer's baptism as so: infant baptism celebrates God's work in offering a new covenant, it is a means of conferring grace, and reflects unambiguously an expansion of covenant membership to include gentiles. Believer's baptism is a celebration of man's achievement, it is symbolic and not a means of anything, and while signifying an expansion of the covenant to gentiles it also institutes a severe an unheard of restriction, being limited to those who can make their own credible profession. The latter would have been expected to make the Jewish converts, used to the covenantal sign being conferred upon infants, complain at least a tad, but scripture records no such remonstrations.
The very bottom line? Infant baptism states: Thank you God that your promise is for my child too. (If you think that is not significant, imagine for a moment the despair of parenthood were it not true). Believer's baptism states: I have made a decision for Christ.

David wrote:
One quick comment. You seem to be treating God's promise as conditional for the child. i.e. if they believe then I will adopt them as my children. Usually God's covenant promises are seen as more than this sort of conditional, but rather a claiming of God's promise to be a God to our children. The promise is a promise of salvation, and of grace. Is this what you meant by your indented paragraph?
Being baptized as an infant certainly makes the child a covenant member, much like being born a Jew. As such, the child is one of "God’s people". Of course, just like the fact that not all Jews were saved, not all who are covenant members are saved. To the elect, God will confer saving grace and they will believe.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

More Thoughts on Baptism

One complaint about infant baptism is that it is "useless". It does not, ex opere operato save anyone. Recipients neither get nor proclaim anything. (This is the criticism, I am not stating that grace is not effected through baptism.)

This is a grave misunderstanding. In actuality, a stronger case is found for labeling "believers baptism" as useless. There, with God as a mere observer, the baptized party is either already saved or a counterfeit. In either case, nothing happens.

Does a believer's baptism serve as a public testimony? Perhaps it does, but not a very strong one. It is the day-to-day life of the professing Christian that bears witness to the genuineness of his faith, not the act of giving a public testimony and being immersed.

I feel very strong about that last point: Believer's baptism values as a public testimony is highly overrated, a red herring, at best a short-lived shot of adrenaline.

Infant baptism is a celebration of God's promise; it recognizes God's work, not the work of the person being baptized. Now there is a profession of sorts being made, not from the one being baptized but from the parents, and it is a profession of belief, belief in the new covenant promise. The parents are publicly professing:
God, you have promised me eternal life if I believe in the redeeming work of your Son. This baptism is a sign that Your promise extends to my children as well—that if they believe they too will be saved.

God's covenant of grace it its various administrations always had an associated sign of God's promise, not man's achievement. The promise is the same since the fall: the promise of salvation through grace. The signs have changed. With Abraham it was circumcision. With Noah, the rainbow. With Moses, the law. With the finished work of Christ, it is water baptism. In the face of this overwhelming continuity (not to mention scripture), there is no reason to convert the last and greatest sign of the promise of salvation into a celebration of something man does: credibly (yet still unreliably) proclaim his faith.

I find it interesting that in the covenantal view circumcision and baptism means exactly the same thing in all cases and to all parents: Thank you Lord for extended your promise to the next generation. Jacob’s and Esau’s circumcision meant exactly the same thing, even though one was loved by God and the other hated. Simon's and Lydia’s baptism meant the same thing even though (it would appear) one was counterfeit and the other genuine.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Age of Accountability

I am reading a great deal on covenant theology, and will post some more essays soon. But not today.

Today I want to write about the age of accountability. I arrive here because of a logical chain that I have used in several recent posts, viz.

Whereas: We are saved by faith, and that faith in Jesus Christ, obtained by grace, is the necessary and sufficient requirement for salvation, and

Whereas: We believe that some who die as infants are saved and in heaven,

Therefore: Infants are capable of faith, although not of expressing it.

Responding to this, several people asked of an alternative possibility: an age of accountability. Perhaps children do not need faith, because they are not held accountable for their sins.

There is no biblical basis for such a doctrine, no matter how attractive it may be. It flies in the face of Original Sin and the manifestation of Original Sin, Total Depravity. We are in rebellion from the womb, and are in need of a redeemer from conception.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Ps 51:7)

The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies. (Ps. 58:3)

The closest passage to affirming an age of accountability is probably:
For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. (Is. 7:16)

What, in the face of overwhelming scripture that belies the concept of an age of accountability, can this mean?

One thing it might refer to is the age of accountability under human law. We don’t put two year olds in jail. That is a far different thing from saying that children are born innocent in God’s eyes and only become sinful when, after reaching some age, they choose to sin. We are born sinners, in rebellion against God, and apart from saving grace we all would receive what we deserve: eternal damnation.

It is also possible that indeed young children cannot make a distinction between right and wrong. But once again, this still does not excuse them from the fact that, as a result of the fall, they are abhorrent in God’s sight, apart from being clothed in Christ’s righteousness.

If there were an age of accountability, then the forty million abortions that have occurred since Roe v. Wade would, in addition to being infanticide, also (in some way) be a mass mercy killing. Forty miilion souls that never faced the risk of condemning themselves by choosing to sin.

Whatever fraction, hopefully all, of the forty million murdered children that are in heaven are there because of God’s mercy, not because they were innocent. Innocent people of any age would not need Christ, for God is just.